Punting on Academics

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Punting on Academics

Alex Tate

College football success upends boys’ grades, but girls may actually benefit.

Read Time:
1m 30sec

Nothing excites Americans more than football. The last three Super Bowls were the most watched television events ever in the United States. With the NCAA poised to profit more than ever when it moves to a playoff system in 2014, debate swirls over compensation for student athletes and institutional spending on athletics. But does college football detract from students’ academic performance?

In the October 2012 issue of American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, Jason Lindo, Isaac Swensen, and Glen Waddell tracked students’ grades during the football season at the University of Oregon from 1997 from 2007. As the Ducks' winning percentage went up—the team finished the 2001 season in the top five nationally—the grades of male non-athletes took a dive. The gap between male and female GPAs widened, and boys were more likely to receive failing grades. Girls’ performance may have suffered too, but the practice of grading on a curve obscures a clear answer. In a survey designed by the authors, both sexes said that the Ducks' wins fueled alcohol consumption, but males were more likely to party harder and study less.

The good news is that a winning football team doesn’t seem to do longer term damage to students’ careers. In fact, among girls with lower than average SAT scores and/or high financial need, the Ducks' winning streaks reduced the probability of dropping out. These girls could have been the main benefactors of grading on a curve, or they could have been buoyed by school spirit. So it may be that a winning season is, overall, a winning season for academics too. 

Alex Tate is a senior at Georgetown University and the WQ’s autumn intern.

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Photo by vagabond by nature via flickr